Enjoy this unseasonably warm weather while you can, as the holiday weekend looks set to feel a bit more like February.
Forecasters say a cold front will roll through tomorrow (Saturday), giving us the chance of seeing a bit of snow, or perhaps just rain. But the worst of that should fizzle out by tomorrow night, with a dry Sunday and Presidents Day on tap after that.
Check out our event calendar if you’re looking for ways to spend the long weekend. Or you can catch up on our most popular stories of the past week:
- Young Women in Arlington Boast the Highest Average Credit Score in the Country
- Arlington Resident Pleads Guilty to $20 Million Fraud
- Marymount Buys Ballston Apartment Building, Converting It to Housing for Students and Staff
- Amazon Cancels NYC HQ2 Plans, But Leaders Say ‘Nothing Has Changed’ for Arlington
- Police Responding to Bank Robbery on Columbia Pike
Head down to the comments to discuss these stories, your plans for the holiday weekend or anything else local. We’ll be publishing on a reduced schedule Monday, but we’ll back to normal on Tuesday. See you then!
Flickr pool photo via eschweik
A new coffee bar appears to be on the way for a Courthouse office building.
Workers have been setting up what looks to be a small shop offering espresso drinks and other breakfast options in the lobby of a building at 1310 N. Courthouse Road. The building sits near the county jail and courthouse, and not far from the county government center.
There are no signs posted at the location just yet, nor are there any permit applications pending for the space, according to county records.
However, an ARLnow reader says staff at the building are telling tenants that the space has been leased out to a business planning to offer both coffee drinks and breakfast sandwiches.
The lobby is already home to a “Fooda” pop-up stand, a company that works with local restaurants to temporarily offer a rotating menu of lunch options at office buildings.
The Gold’s Gym in the building could soon be on the move as well — its lease is set to expire there in March, though its staff is hoping to negotiate an extension.
The Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse is closing out the winter with a full lineup of popular comedians.
The Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) will boast a fair number of familiar faces over the course of the next month.
- Ricky Velez, of “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” and “Master of None,” tonight and Saturday (Feb. 16)
- Carlos Mencia, of “Mind of Mencia,” Feb. 21-23
- Hal Sparks, of “Talk Soup” and “Queer as Folk,” March 1-2
- Brian Posehn, of new Netflix special “The Fartist,” March 7-9
- Chris Kattan, of “Saturday Night Live” and “Night at the Roxbury,” March 15-16
- Ahmed Ahmed, of “Sullivan and Sons” and “Swingers,” March 22-23
- London Brown, of “Ballers,” March 29-30
The Drafthouse will also hold another edition of its regular “Spoons, Toons & Booze” series on Feb. 23-24, offering select episodes of popular Saturday morning cartoon series along with boozy beverages and an all-you-can-eat cereal bar.
The DC Film Society also plans to host its 27th annual “And The Winner Is…” Oscar watch party at the Drafthouse, starting at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24.
The FBI’s Washington office is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the man’s capture, up from $5,000, and investigators believe he’s now been involved in 20 robberies across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. over the last year or so.
County police believe a man walked into the Capital One bank at 3532 Columbia Pike around 2:15 p.m. Monday, brandishing a gun and passing a teller a note demanding money. However, he fled the scene before he could get any cash.
Police released surveillance photos yesterday (Thursday) of the man wearing a mask and hard hat, which the FBI believes is consistent with the “Bank Bandit’s” previous robberies. Investigators say he’s passed a threatening note to tellers in each of his robberies, and has “worn different disguises such as a baseball cap, wig, gloves, hijab or hoodie to alter his appearance,” according to a news release.
The FBI believes the man has previously robbed banks in Alexandria, Falls Church and Centreville, but this is the first incident he’s been involved in Arlington.
Investigators describe him as a black man in 20s or 30s, standing between 5’7″ and 6’2″, weighing between 160 and 170 pounds.
The FBI is asking anyone with more information to call 202-278-2000 or submit a tip at tips.fbi.gov.
The #FBI has doubled the #reward to $10,000 for information leading to the capture of the "Beltway Bank Bandit." Have info? Submit a tip at https://t.co/t8G7LO4hxu #Wanted https://t.co/AZwvolZekC pic.twitter.com/YJKxTr7WeH
— FBI Washington Field (@FBIWFO) February 15, 2019
Ballston’s bevy of construction projects has led to another headache for drivers near Wilson Blvd.
Workers recently wrapped up some work on sidewalks at the intersection of N. Randolph Street and Wilson Blvd, near a trio of large construction projects: Ballston Quarter, Ballston Exchange and Liberty Center. That included the installation of a new curb extension designed to make life a bit easier on pedestrians, who were previously a bit baffled by construction at the intersection.
But the downside of that sidewalk work is that the newly finished curb blocks off most of N. Randolph Street’s right-turn lane. The road frequently gets backed up, particularly during the evening rush hour, creating crowded conditions on the side street.
County officials say they’re aware of the problem and are hoping to fix it, but the wet weather has made that a bit of a challenge.
“The curb extension was constructed and [lane] re-striping usually follows,” Jessica Baxter, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, told ARLnow. “This is weather-dependent and requires that no moisture be on the pavement.”
Baxter says that work is now set to take place next Saturday (Feb. 23).
In the meantime, she said the developer managing the project has placed traffic cones in the lane to make it clear that drivers can’t use the lane.
“The right lane will go away while the next lane over will become either a thru lane or right turn lane,” Baxter said.
County officials are clearing the way for WhyHotel proceed with its plans to set up temporary hotel rooms in two Arlington apartment buildings: one in Ballston, the other along Columbia Pike.
The startup announced in December that it hopes to bring a total of 325 of its pop-up hotel rooms to the county this year, splitting them between the residential tower attached to the Ballston Quarter development and the “Centro Arlington” project, which is taking the place of the old Food Star grocery store off the Pike.
Since then, the company has been working to secure county approvals for its unusual business model. WhyHotel strikes deals with owners of large new residential buildings to rent out blocks of furnished apartments, helping property owners make some extra cash while they work to find more permanent tenants. The firm also brings along a full on-call staff to handle cleaning and other guest needs to each property, providing customers with a bit more than a simple hotel might offer.
The County Board approved the zoning changes necessary for the company to set up its Ballston Quarter rooms on Jan. 26, and the Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend that the Board do the same for the Centro Arlington development.
WhyHotel expects to have 175 rooms ready in Ballston by April, with the remaining 150 on the Pike available sometime this summer or fall.
In both cases, the company will have the county’s permission to offer the temporary rooms for the next two years. But WhyHotel executives expect they’ll need much less than that, given the demand for new apartments in Arlington these days.
CEO Jason Fudin told the Planning Commission that the company’s first effort at “The Bartlett” complex in Pentagon City lasted just five months before the building was fully leased out.
“We leave pretty quickly when things go well in Arlington,” Fudin said.
Planning Commissioner Stephen Hughes says the company’s deference to long-term renters eased his mind in considering WhyHotel’s business model. He pointed out that “long-term leaseholders take precedence” in the company’s arrangements with Arlington property owners, which is why WhyHotel tends not to stick around for too long.
“Neighbors, of course, hope to have long-term neighbors,” Hughes said.
But that hesitancy doesn’t mean that county officials are opposed to the idea of short-term guests on the Pike. In fact, Hughes hopes WhyHotel’s stay in Centro Arlington spurs more conversations in the business community about the viability of other hotels in the area.
“The data will now be there for the bankers and investors to see whether a current, flat service parking lot may be a suitable hotel in the future,” Hughes said.
Workers are installing a new and improved pedestrian bridge over Wilson Blvd in Ballston this weekend, but that will mean some major road closures.
The new bridge is designed to connect the newly revamped Ballston Quarter with the neighborhood’s Metro station, with a link through the Ballston Exchange development at 4201 Wilson Blvd.
Ballston Quarter’s developer, Forest City, originally hoped to have the bridge ready in time for stores at the former Ballston Common mall to start opening up late last year. But the project ran into a few logistical delays, before ramping up in earnest in December.
Workers have been busily been assembling the bridge in Mosaic Park for the last few months, and they’ll now use a series of cranes to transport the 94-ton bridge to its permanent home over Wilson with road closures starting today (Friday).
County police say they’ll start by closing N. Quincy Street, between Wilson Boulevard and 5th Road N., in both directions at 2 p.m. today.
Then, starting at 7 p.m. tonight and running through noon Saturday, they’ll close the following:
- Wilson Boulevard, between N. Oakland Street and N. Stuart Street
- N. Randolph Street, between 9th Street N. and 5th Road N.
- N. Quincy Street, between 9th Street N. and 5th Road N.
- N. Pollard Street, between 9th Street N. and 6th Street N.
- N. Piedmont Street, between Wilson Boulevard and 7th Street N.
Police say that people living along those roads will be able to enter and exit, but only at the direction of officers.
But the bulk of the work will happen from noon Saturday through 6 p.m. Sunday while the bridge is actually installed. That means Wilson Boulevard will be entirely closed between N. Randolph Street and N. Stuart Street.
Police are also encouraging drivers to use N. Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive as alternate routes to avoid Wilson Boulevard this weekend. Street parking in the area will also be restricted and drivers should be on the lookout for temporary “No Parking” signs.
Some work to repair stream erosion will prompt a weeks-long closure of two trails in the Dominion Hills neighborhood starting next week.
The W&OD trail and Four Mile Run trail will both be impacted by the construction, aimed at reversing the impacts of erosion along Four Mile Run as it nears I-66. Construction is set to kick off on Monday (Feb. 18).
The work will force the closure of the W&OD trail for about a month, the county says, shuttering a section between N. Ohio Street and its intersection with the Custis Trail.
The section of the Four Mile Run trail in the area, between N. Madison Street and Patrick Henry Drive, will be closed for about six weeks.
“Tree impacts will be avoided to extent feasible,” the county wrote on its website. “Some trees will be pruned along the Four Mile Run trail in the vicinity of the staging/access area.”
Workers will post detour signs near the closed sections of the trails. Cyclists and pedestrians will be directed onto N. Manchester Street, then 10th Road N. to avoid the construction.
Arlington and other localities around the D.C. region have enough room to add the housing necessary to keep pace with the Amazon-driven population influx expected over the coming years — but actually realizing that potential won’t be easy, regional planners say.
Researchers with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a coalition of local leaders, have warned in the past that the region needs to add about 100,000 more homes through 2045, or else risk seeing rent prices creep up even higher and more people pushed into the outer suburbs.
Their latest data, unveiled yesterday (Wednesday), suggest that localities across Northern Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have already put plans in place to meet even that large number.
The vast majority of that work was completed before Amazon announced its plans to head to Arlington (to say nothing of the news that it’s canceling its New York City plans as well), but officials are confident that region’s population boom of the last few years has spurred the right kind of planning work to account for the tech giant’s arrival as well.
But planners are also cautioning the region’s leaders that everything from land-use policies to the high cost of construction to “not-in-my-backyard” sentiments are sure to confound their efforts to actually meet that demand for new housing.
“We do think we have the capacity in our long-range plans to get there,” Andrew Trueblood, D.C.’s acting planning director, told the MWCOG Board of Directors Wednesday. “But that’s the first hurdle and there’s a whole number of hurdles to get past.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, restrictive zoning and land-use policies are one of the chief obstacles planners identified for local leaders to tackle as they seek to add more homes. Many activists and Arlington officials have already begun discussing the best ways to increase density in the county, and that’s included the fraught topic of up-zoning areas previously reserved for single-family homes.
But those considerations are only one piece of the puzzle, according to the COG’s analysts.
Trueblood pointed out that the region is getting better at concentrating housing in “activity centers” around Metro stops or other public transit options. But as land close to transit becomes more scarce, it also becomes more expensive, ramping up the costs of the sort of development planners are most enthusiastic about encouraging.
Trueblood added that the “unstable construction cost market” has also complicated other development efforts. Other developers have been frustrated by local opposition to dense developments, particularly when it comes in the form of legal action targeting even “by-right” developments, which don’t require extensive government review.
But, in Northern Virginia particularly, officials say that a lack of interest from developers is far from an issue.
“We are not having trouble with the development community coming and wishing to develop,” said Sharon Bulova, the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “But making sure that those new residential homes and units are affordable is really the challenge.”
Arlington is certainly grappling with that issue as well. County officials are locked in a debate about the best way to meet their own affordable housing goals — possibilities range from setting aside more cash to spur affordable developments to opening up zoning rules to allow a more diverse array of housing types.
Helen McElveen, Alexandria’s housing director, expressed optimism that the private sector will step up in some regard on that front — she noted that dominant Crystal City developer JBG Smith has expressed a particular interest in funding more affordable homes.
But she also cautioned that local governments themselves will always have a dominant role to play in subsidizing apartments affordable to the lowest income renters.
“Affordability won’t happen unless governments act,” McElveen said. “We don’t live in a market with a lot of affordable stock or even workforce stock being delivered… We know we can neither build our way out of this nor preserve everything.”
The COG’s analysts expect that their next steps are to study “the specific challenges (public and private) to developing more housing” in those “activity centers” around mass transit options, and deliver recommendations for overcoming those issues.
That will surely take some time to sort out, but planners say they’re well aware of the urgent need for answers to the questions.
“If we can not keep up with the growth, employers will not expand and our region’s growth is hurt,” Trueblood said. “But if we can produce the housing needed for the region to grow and for economy to be vibrant, we’ll reduce the displacement pressures facing everyone.”
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Amazon is cancelling plans to build half of its “HQ2” in New York City, citing mounting criticism from local officials and activists in its reasoning for abandoning its other proposed location for a new headquarters outside Arlington.
But Amazon said in a statement announcing the change that it does not intend to re-open the HQ2 search and will “proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville.”
County Board Chair Christian Dorsey says the company told local officials that “nothing has changed” when it comes to Amazon’s plans for Arlington, and that the county isn’t likely to suddenly see jobs bound for New York head here instead.
Amazon originally announced plans to bring 25,000 jobs to Crystal City and Pentagon City in November, though the terms of the state incentive deal recently approved by Gov. Ralph Northam do allow for the company add another 12,850 jobs to the Arlington headquarters after that.
Dorsey told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that the chances of the company reaching that larger number have likely increased with today’s news. However, he added that the county does not plan to try to lure any of the jobs originally set for New York to Arlington instead. Spokespeople for JBG Smith, Amazon’s future landlord in some buildings and development partner for others, declined to comment on Amazon’s New York City changes.
“If they want to occupy more square footage, that will be contingent on the community plans we already have in place for any business,” Dorsey said. “But at this point, there is no reason to speculate about that.”
Amazon pointed to a lack of “positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials” in explaining its decision to abandon its New York plans. Rumors first started circulating that the tech giant could spurn the city once New York lawmakers appointed a vocal Amazon critic to a state board that would have oversight over the state’s incentive package for the company, and a coalition of lawmakers and left-leaning activists have been intensely skeptical of Amazon’s plans for the city.
But Dorsey says this development has done little to change his opinion of Amazon as a partner for the county, praising the company’s executives as “collegial and collaborative” thus far.
“They’ve been a completely honest broker and we feel good about our relationship with them,” Dorsey said. “I can’t speculate about what went wrong in New York… we’re just trying to treat Amazon as they’ve treated us: by being transparent, honest and forthright. They’ve not only accepted who we are and our values, but embraced it.”
Amazon’s skeptics in the county think it’s foolish for local leaders to view today’s news so charitably. Roshan Abraham, an outspoken Amazon critic and a leader of the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, thinks the company’s sudden decision to pull out of New York should give county officials “significant pause” in dealing with Amazon.
“This demonstrates Amazon’s need for control,” Abraham told ARLnow. “Amazon wants things to go their way, and if it doesn’t, they’ll leave. They’ll hold the county hostage with that threat. They’re clearly not afraid to use that to their advantage.
Abraham hopes the company’s decision to leave New York demonstrates “the power of activists and what activism can achieve,” and emboldens the tech company’s opponents around the county. Though anti-Amazon sentiment has been a bit more muted in the county than in New York, activists have raised concerns ranging from affordable housing to labor and environmental practices to the use of public funds to benefit one of the world’s largest companies.
But local leaders say they aren’t worried about any sort of major community backlash derailing Arlington’s own incentive deal for Amazon, just yet.
“Some things could change a little bit in our performance agreement with Amazon… and this is likely to contribute to some increased heat over the next six weeks,” County Board member Matt de Ferranti told ARLnow. “I don’t want to underplay it, but we’re certainly not panicked by it.”
The Board is still mulling that agreement, which will work out to about $23 million in grant money for the company over the next 15 years. The cash will be drawn only from a projected increase in hotel stay tax revenues that Amazon is expected to generate.
A vote on that deal was delayed after originally being targeted for this month, and Dorsey says the Board is currently eyeing March 16 for the big decision.
“We are excited that Amazon’s plans for Virginia remain in place and that we can continue working together to position Virginia’s dynamic tech sector for healthy, sustained, statewide growth,” Stephen Moret, the president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (which helped broker the Amazon deal) wrote in a statement.
Here’s the full Amazon statement about its Valentine’s Day breakup with NYC:
After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.
We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion — we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture — and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.
We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.
We do not intend to re-open the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.
Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.
Crystal City commuters were greeted by a bit of an unusual sight this morning at the neighborhood’s Metro station: a human-sized Amazon Echo.
Environmental activists with the group Greenpeace USA invited people at the station to ask questions to their very own “Alexa” Thursday, and posted a variety of signs around the area proclaiming it as “National Landing,” the name chosen by local officials pitching the trifecta of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for the tech giant’s new headquarters.
It was all part of a demonstration designed to draw attention to Amazon’s practices for powering its data centers scattered across the Northern Virginia area.
Though much of the opposition to the company’s move to Arlington has centered on its labor standards or the incentive money flowing to the massive firm, this morning’s demonstration accused Amazon of falling short of its commitments to use renewable energy to fuel its 55 data centers scattered across the region.
“We asked Alexa if she thought Amazon would be a good neighbor to Virginians and she replied, ‘that depends how much you like breathing clean air,'” Elizabeth Jardim, a Greenpeace USA senior corporate campaigner, wrote in a statement. “Amazon’s cloud including Alexa is powered largely from Northern Virginia, where it uses 88 percent dirty energy — meaning every question to Alexa is driving carbon emissions.”
Activists invited commuters to ask questions of “Alexa” about Amazon’s energy practices, and the life-sized Echo (voiced by local improv instructor Donna Steele) was ready with plenty of snarky replies.
NOW: We’re in front of the Amazon’s new HQ2 in Virginia with Alexa to tell Amazon: it’s time to clean your cloud! RT if you think Amazon should stick to its promise to power is cloud with 100% #renewableenergy! #AskAlexa #ClickClean pic.twitter.com/ndHezOPOqT
— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) February 14, 2019
"How does Amazon power its cloud?". Alexa's answer: Amazon powers its cloud with fossil fuels. "We have ten years, people!!!" Send us your question and we'll #AskAlexa!#ClimateChange #ClickClean pic.twitter.com/dtPphy32E4
— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) February 14, 2019
Amazon committed years ago to someday using 100 percent renewable energy at its data centers, run as part of its lucrative Amazon Web Services cloud computing division.
But Greenpeace is accusing the company of abandoning that effort, even as other tech companies in Virginia like Google and Microsoft make progress.
The tech giant responded to the report by saying it’s “firmly committed” to that goal, and claimed that Greenpeace is using “inaccurate data” that “overstate both AWS’s current and projected energy usage.”
The activists stand by their numbers, however, insisting that the company address the issue if it’s to be a good neighbor in Arlington.
“Before Amazon breaks ground on its HQ2 in Virginia, Jeff Bezos needs to take responsibility for Amazon’s already massive energy demand in the state and follow through on its commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy,” Jardim said.
Arlington officials have said in the past they’ve had their own conversations with Amazon executives about the best ways to ensure that the company’s new office buildings across “National Landing” are energy efficient, but those discussions won’t proceed in earnest until the county formally signs off on the incentive package designed to bring the company to Arlington.
Elizabeth Crocker is stepping in as the new executive director of the Clarendon Alliance, an organization that advocates on behalf of local businesses and manages a variety of Clarendon events, the group announced yesterday (Wednesday).
“As a native Arlingtonian, I am excited to have this opportunity to work for a neighborhood that I love,” Crocker wrote in a statement. “I look forward to promoting Clarendon businesses, strengthening relationships throughout Arlington, collaborating with old and new partners, and creating innovative events for the community.”
According to a news release, Crocker has worked in a variety of leadership positions at nonprofits and lobbying groups around D.C., and held positions in the White House, Congress and a variety of federal agencies.
She’s also helped organize events including the Wolf Trap Ball and the Jane Goodall Global Leadership Awards, which will surely come in handy as she works on the group’s premier event of the year: Clarendon Day, which is held each fall.
“Elizabeth brings a wealth of experience in special events, fundraising, membership, and economic development,” Scott Pedowitz, president of the Clarendon Alliance’s Board of Directors, wrote in a statement. “She joins us during an exciting time of transition for our organization, and we are looking forward to working with a leader of her caliber.”
Crocker plans to spend the next few months reaching out to “community stakeholders” and crafting a new strategic plan for the Alliance, the release said.
But she won’t have a big parade to handle right off the bat — Crocker says the neighborhood’s annual Mardi Gras events won’t be happening this year.
Photo courtesy of the Clarendon Alliance
A new Asian fusion restaurant is now open for business in the base of a Virginia Square office building.
The eatery offers a menu with all manner of Asian dishes available, from pad thai to banh mi to a variety of curries. The restaurant also boasts a full bar.
The location is the second in the Northern Virginia area for Thai Treasure, which also operates a restaurant of the same name in Vienna. Owner Nui Bumrungsiri is hoping to offer a bit more expansive menu at the Arlington location, however, with dishes from a variety of different countries.
Bumrungsiri also told ARLnow that she’s hoping to hold a grand opening event for the restaurant sometime in the near future.
Water & Wall closed at the space in February 2017, after roughly three and a half years in business. Burgerim recently opened a new location in the same building as well.
Arlington now has its sixth dockless electric scooter company: Skip.
The San Francisco-based firm was just approved to start operating its vehicles in the county under Arlington’s pilot program this week, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow.
Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his plans for the county, but Balliet says the company has been cleared to deploy 350 scooters around Arlington — that’s the minimum number of vehicles the county is allowing firms to operate in the area upon first joining the pilot, which the County Board crafted this fall as a way to test out the best methods for managing dockless devices.
The company also told county officials it was planning to offer scooters in both Arlington and D.C. this fall, and it now joins Bird, Lime, Lyft, Spin and Jump in renting out dockless vehicles around the county.
Spin just started offering its scooters around Arlington, while Jump will do so sometime in the next few weeks.
The county’s pilot is set to run through this summer. Once it wraps up, officials will have to consider the best way to craft permanent regulations for the scooters, and will likely be helped along by a new state bill making its way through the General Assembly.
Amazon is showing an increasing willingness to sign a collective bargaining agreement with local unions before it sets to work building new office space in Arlington, perhaps meeting a frequent demand of activists concerned about the tech giant’s labor practices.
Though the company cautions that nothing is set in stone until county officials formally sign off on an incentive deal to bring the tech giant’s new headquarters to Crystal City and Pentagon City, Amazon is sending signals that it’s open to the prospect of striking a “project labor agreement” with construction workers who could someday erect the company’s future home in Arlington.
Should the company someday strike such a deal, commonly known as a “PLA,” the agreement would set out the employment conditions for all workers involved in Amazon’s construction efforts (whether or not they belong to a union) before the company starts accepting bids for the project. The PLA could govern everything from pay rates to workers’ compensation claims, and the agreements are generally designed to ensure labor peace during a major project while also improving conditions for workers.
“We’re definitely open to it,” Amazon spokeswoman Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “But this is all still pretty early. We really have our heads down, focused on working with the community on this initial package for approval before county officials.”
Kerr says that company has already held an initial meeting on the topic with representatives from the Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades, a coalition of unionized construction workers, and JBG Smith, the company’s future landlord at some existing buildings and development partner for other properties.
A spokesman for JBG Smith declined to comment on the deliberations, but Kerr stressed that discussions were “all hypothetical” and remain very much in the earliest possible stages of debate. Amazon plans to both build new offices in Pentagon City and renovate others in Crystal City, and Kerr believes it’s too early to say how any future PLA would apply to that range of projects.
However, Steve Courtien, the D.C. field representative for the building trades, came away from the meeting cautiously optimistic about the prospects of someday striking a deal with Amazon.
During a Feb. 3 town hall on Amazon convened by Arlington Democrats, he said the company seemed generally “positive” about the idea, particularly because the tech firm has worked out PLAs for some of its other projects around the country — Kerr said she was unable to confirm that latter assertion.
As for JBG Smith, Courtien said the idea of a PLA was more of a “mind bend” to them, but he fully expects the development firm to follow Amazon’s lead, given the size of the company’s investment in the area.
“That’s what they have to get past,” Courtien said. “Amazon basically has to tell JBG, ‘this is what we want,’ then they say ‘OK’ and negotiate the PLA with private contractors.”
The County Board is signaling that it’s broadly supportive of those efforts, and members have said in the past that they’ve encouraged Amazon to strike a PLA before moving into Arlington.
But Virginia law prohibits government agencies from requiring PLAs as a condition of allowing new construction (in keeping with the state’s tradition of pro-business, anti-union regulations) and county officials are cautioning that they’ll only have a limited role to play in the discussions.
“I think I speak for the whole Board in saying it’s something we’re all supportive of,” County Board member Erik Gutshall said during the town hall. “But it’s not something we can legally mandate from them.”
Anti-Amazon activists have been similarly enthusiastic about the idea of a PLA for the company’s construction work, considering the frequent concerns raised about how the tech giant treats its warehouse workers.
Stories of employees being unable to take bathroom breaks without risking their jobs or warehouses filled with boiling heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter have spooked many county residents. Roshan Abraham, a leading Amazon critic as part of his leadership role with the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, also points out that the company has pledged to oppose any unionization efforts it encounters at its other new headquarters in New York City.
That’s why Abraham believes it will be crucial for Arlington workers to secure a PLA before Amazon comes to town, though he fears it might not be enough to combat the huge company’s power.
“We shouldn’t stop just at a PLA,” Abraham said during the town hall. “We should be pressuring them even further to stay out of their union-busting behavior, which has been pretty well documented elsewhere.”
Ultimately, Abraham is so skeptical of the company’s business practices that he believes it’s a poor fit for Arlington’s values (even though he is “not that deluded” to believe that the county will turn down the company’s new headquarters).
Board members say they have their own concerns about Amazon’s ethics, whether it signs a PLA or not, but they don’t believe they’re substantial enough to justify barring the company from moving in.
After all, Gutshall pointed out that Arlington is also home to Boeing, a major military contractor, and while he may not like that they “manufacture equipment that is designed to kill people all over the world,” he hasn’t tried to chase the company away.
“We’ve not made it a condition of a corporation locating here or a resident locating here to abide by our progressive values for how you conduct your business,” said County Board member Katie Cristol. “Some 10 or 15 percent of Arlingtonians voted for Donald Trump. I’m not a fan of that, but I’m not going to try to kick them out of Arlington County or say they can’t live here.”
Photo via JBG Smith